The Campbell-Sparks Debate

By Larry Ray Hafley

It was my good fortune to again moderate for brother Kevin Campbell in his third debate with the Baptists. The debate was held in Gulfport, MS in the meeting house of the Missionary Baptists during the week of September 21-25, 1992.

The sound and faithful brethren at the Morris Road church supported the debate with both their presence and prayers, as well as with numerous works of faith and labors of love. Even though the debate was in a Baptist church building, there were more brethren than Baptists at every service. Baptists probably out number Christians a 100 to 1 in that area, but during a debate one would never know it. The attendance of the Baptists was pitiful! There were less than ten of them present during one of the sessions. However, despite the woeful attendance, brother Campbell was able to speak to more alien sinners during the debate than he would have spoken to during most any series of gospel meetings.

The poor attendance by the Baptists is attributable to a number of diverse factors. First, they have taken such a whipping at the hands of truth as handled by brother Campbell that they are tired of coming and being embarrassed by their error. Insincere and dishonest hearts are like that when they love their sect more than the Savior, when they love their denomination more than the doctrine of the Lord, when they love their party position more than they love the Master’s message. Second, I suspect (this is just a guess, just my opinion) that their lack of attendance reflects the lack of strong, doctrinal teaching that once characterized Missionary Baptists. There was a time when Missionary Baptists held the zeal and fervor of those pesky Campbellites whom they loved to hate! There was a time when they believed they were the Lord’s church, when they believed and taught that they were right and others were wrong, when they were willing to debate and earnestly contend for the Baptist way. But, alas, that time has nearly seen its complete eclipse. No longer are the Missionary Baptists the combative, doctrinally dogmatic people they used to be, or so it seems to me.

Liberalism and the compromise of ardently held principles have been the bane of many old-fashioned Landmark Missionary Baptists. Any time a group begins to soften and weaken and blunt its distinctive message, it does so with the best of intentions – “Maybe we are too dogmatic, too rigid, too harsh, unloving and severe; maybe if we toned down our approach we would appeal to more people.” That is how they reason, but it never works. For a distinct proposition, whether it be true or false, to survive, it must be uncompromisingly and unashamedly thrust before the hearts of men and women with great zeal, vigor and determination (cf. the book of Acts and the experience of the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc.).

Bobby Sparks was brother Campbell’s opponent. Mr. Sparks has been schooled in the doctrine of Missionary Baptists. He utilizes the arguments of Bogard, Chastain and Garner. Though he speaks with a high pitched voice, which is almost shrill at times, he is very effective. With Bogard and Barr dead and with Chastain and Garner now aged and ill, Sparks is as good a debater as the Baptists have. He should not be taken lightly. Unfortunately for Mr. Sparks, he not only had to contend with the truth, but he also had to face brother Campbell.

As usual, Kevin was well prepared. Brother Campbell does his homework. He researches an opponent’s doctrine and has a chart to respond to nearly anything that is said. He is extremely efficient in his use of his time and material and is a master at summarizing his opponent’s general thrust. Then he proceeds to pick it apart, bit by bit, piece by piece. It is unfair, though, for me to boast of Kevin’s abilities. His work does not reflect himself. His handling of the truth serves the cause of truth and righteousness. When he finishes, one is impressed with the truth. He does not draw attention to himself but to the word of Christ. That is, perhaps, one of the things that I admire most about him – “For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord” (2 Cor. 4:5).

Arguments Advanced

While it would be impossible to review all of the arguments used, you may be interested in hearing some of the quibbles that Mr. Sparks made. Before citing them, I must issue a word of caution to squeamish souls. What follows is not pretty. Some people are repulsed by strong arguments and counter attacks against error. If that describes you, do not read this next section, for it is saturated (like Matt. 22; Rom. 9; and the books of Gal. and Heb., as well as Col. 2 and 1 Jn.) with the arguments of error and the answers of truth. If such things make you queasy, please do not read what follows.

But here is the irony of what follows. Brother Campbell may be criticized by some for his strong, pointed refutation of error. However, when you are reading his response, please observe what the spirit of error, Mr. Sparks said! Consider the snide, facetious, evil arguments that Mr. Sparks made against your Lord and Savior! Observe the blasphemy in all its stark, scathing reality! Must an enemy of the Son of God, full of all subtlety and all mischief, be allowed to wrest and twist the truth and confuse and condemn the souls of men to eternity, unchecked and unopposed? Brother Campbell does not think so. How about you? “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?”

Sparks argued that if we must be baptized to get into Christ, then Christ dwells in our baptistries. So, he said, since Christ dwells in the water, then when we pull the plug and drain the baptistry, Christ must go down the sewer! But one must be baptized in water before he can be a member of the Baptist Church. Hence, the Baptist Church dwells in the water. When the baptistry is drained, the Baptist church goes into the sewer.

Mr. Sparks said that his Baptist school sometimes teaches Catholic children. He shows these young Catholics their errors, but when he wants to baptize them, the Catholic parents refuse. So, he said, I can lead them to Christ, but if baptism is essential, then all those poor, innocent Catholic children are lost because their parents will not allow them to be baptized. Sparks blamed the plight of those children on brother Campbell.

Brother Campbell wondered about Jewish children who might be sent to Mr. Sparks for some religious training. Sparks would expect them to believe on Christ, but if the Jewish parents refused to allow their children to confess Christ, then Sparks’ doctrine condemns all those poor, innocent Jewish children. Would that mean that faith in Christ is not essential? If baptism cannot be essential to salvation because it would mean that some were lost who did not obey it, then confession of Christ cannot be essential to salvation on the very same basis.

Throughout all these quibbles, brother Campbell patiently and persistently pressed the Scriptures against Mr. Sparks. The evasion and subterfuge was answered, not only with logic and parallel reasoning, but also with Bible passages.

Mr. Sparks argued that the expression in Acts 2:38, “for the remission of sins,” means “because of” the remission of sins. He never attempted to show why that Christ’s blood was not shed “because of” the remission of sins. Jesus shed his blood “for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28). If repentance and baptism are engaged in “because of” the remission of sins, why is it not true that Christ shed his blood “because of” the remission of sins? Sparks never tried to explain.

Sparks did say that “for” sometime means “because of.” As proof, he cited Mark 1:44 and Revelation 16:10. When Kevin showed that the original terms were not the same, that the word “for” in Acts 2:38 was not the same word used in the texts cited by Sparks, Mr. Sparks simply tucked his tail, ducked his head and ran for cover. He said nothing else about it.

On the apostasy question, “once saved, always saved,” Mr. Sparks said that a child of God could commit every sin except the sin of unbelief. Brother Campbell asked why Hebrews 2:12 says, “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.” If a child of God cannot become an unbeliever, why is Hebrews 2:12 in the Bible? Mr. Sparks has not yet explained it. Could it be that his position is wrong?

Brother Campbell effectively used Hebrews 10:26-29 to show that a child of God could be lost. “For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?”

Kevin showed that one sanctified by the blood could sin willfully and merit a punishment worse than physical death. After much goading and prodding, Sparks finally said that the “he” that was sanctified in the text was none other than Jesus Christ. Yes, he said it. He said that Christ is the “he” referred to: Jesus as the one sanctified in the passage, not a child of God. Kevin asked Mr. Sparks if Jesus trod himself under foot. He asked Sparks just what sins Jesus had that caused him to need to be sanctified by his own blood. Again, Sparks played the part of the proverbial ostrich and said nothing else about his blunder. The audience saw his obvious error. The truth of the passage was made to shine as brother Campbell continued to appeal to the text.

Brother Campbell is to debate Bobby Sparks again, January 25, 26, 28, 29, 1993, in the meeting house of the Pruett and Lobit St. church in Baytown, TX. All four nights will be on salvation by the gospel of grace. We hope that many of you will be able to attend.

These debates do a lot of good. They strengthen brethren in the truth, and they give the lost an opportunity to hear it. In the constant conflict and controversy of the first century, the church “multiplied,” as great numbers “were added unto the Lord.” In the last century, the church grew in the midst of the din of debate and discussion. Contrary to the views of some, we need more, not less, controversy. Pray for brother Campbell and for all who are fighting the good fight of faith on every front, whether it be around the kitchen table in a home Bible study, in a class, in the pulpit or in debate. We can all “be fellow helpers to the truth,” “that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (Jn. 7; 1 Pet. 4:11).

Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 22, pp. 678-679
November 19, 1992